Dr. Thelma Daley, 2014 Uncommon Height Award Honorees Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice and Lori Billingsley

The status of health disparities plaguing African Americans and the crisis of human trafficking, especially among young African American girls was the agenda of a town hall conversation at the National Council of Negro Women, Inc.’s 56th National Convention Aug. 21.

Dr. David E. Rivers, associate professor and director of public information and community outreach for the Medical University of South Carolina, moderated an in-depth discourse among human rights activists and health experts about living in a healthy and prosperous society through eliminating health disparity, particularly for African Americans.

Panelists for the town hall included, Registered Dietician and Certified Diabetes Educator, Jeanete Jordan; U.S. Department of Defense Portfolio Manager, Cmdr. April Kidd; and Malika Saada Saar, special counsel on human rights and director of Human Rights Projects for Girls.

The town hall was one of several events over the four day convention held at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Oxon Hill, Md.

According to Rivers, research has shown that Americans have spent more money on healthcare, but yet, the outcomes are less positive than other countries.

“Last year we spent $2.6 trillion on healthcare in this country, and yet we still have some of the worst outcomes in the world as you can see,” he said.

Poverty is one of the key issues that cause health disparities among different ethnic groups, said Rivers.

In 2013 the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 46.5 million Americans lived in poverty. But for Blacks, the rate at which they suffer from poverty is the highest, with 27.2 percent compared to other ethnic groups such as Hispanics whose poverty level ranks at 25.6 percent.

Kidd said that people’s social determinants are all shaped by economics and its distribution.

“Social policies, politics, power, and resources, and all of those things work together at the global level as well as national level. So there’s something that everyone can do that does affect social determinants of health,” she said.

In addition, the health activities in which we engage, according to Kidd, determines our health status.

Nutrition expert Jordan said some of the ways African Americans can reduce their risks of contracting diseases like cancer and diabetes is adhering to a healthy diet, physical fitness, as well as regular check-ups.

As a human rights lawyer and advocate focused on eliminating violence and human trafficking of children who are victims of sex, Saar’s dialogue was centered on curtailing and bringing to justice predators that go on sites such as Craigslist to purchase sex from young girls.

Saar said that mainly African American girls who come from the “broken foster system” between the ages of 12 to 14 are usually lured, tricked, enticed, or kidnaped. This type of trafficking Saar  coins as  modern day slavery, especially  in the case that law enforcements finds a girl on the street selling sex, Saar says their response is to lock them up.

“Even though she is not even of the age to consent to sex, let alone commercial sex,” she said. “It’s the girl who gets , almost never the buyer and rarely the trafficker.”

Maria Adebola

Special to the AFRO